The Harvard women’s basketball team’s escape from John J. Lee Amphitheater with a one-point win over Yale on Saturday night ensured that the Crimson (15-5, 5-1 Ivy) would remain on top of the Ancient Eight for at least another week. Harvard will look to defend its position at the front of the leaderboard this weekend against the two C’s of the Ivy League: Columbia (4-16, 1-5) and Cornell (11-9, 3-3).
The contests will take place at Lavietes Pavilion, where the team has won 19 straight.
Harvard will welcome the Lions to Cambridge for a Valentine’s Day special this Friday evening. Columbia enters the game on a five-game losing streak, with each of those defeats coming in conference play. The Lions’ record may not tell the entire story, however, as the young squad played Penn close the entire way in a 70-63 loss last weekend.
Lavietes Pavilion was not kind to the Lions in the team’s visit last season ,as the Crimson’s 71-26 win marked the fewest points allowed by a Harvard squad since 1978.
“The underdog mentality in the Ivy League is extremely dangerous,” Crimson coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “I have confidence in my team this year that we are not going to overlook anyone. We aren’t building up for any one opponent.”
The Lions are led by freshman forward Tori Oliver, who is averaging 10.1 points and 5.7 rebounds a game. Oliver and fellow starting forward senior Courtney Bradford, who leads the team in boards with six a game, will have their hands full down low dealing with the Crimson’s Temi Fagbenle. The junior forward is averaging 12.6 points per game to go along with team-highs in rebounds, with 9.6 per game, and blocks, with 1.5 per game.
On Saturday, Harvard will participate in its annual Play4Kay game,wearing pink warm-ups and inviting fans to “Pack the House” for its meeting with Cornell.
The Big Red enters its annual Dartmouth-Harvard road trip coming off of a disappointing home stand against the Killer P’s that dropped the team to 3-3 in league play.
The Crimson’s second weekend game will feature a frontcourt battle between Fagbenle and Cornell senior forward Allyson DiMagno, who is averaging 13.4 points and 8.4 rebounds to head the Big Red.
“The two focuses we have for this weekend are stopping drives and rebounding,” junior co-captain Kaitlyn Dinkins said. “If we do those two things, we should win both of our games.”
The Crimson has won 11-straight against Cornell and owns an overall 58-11 record against the Big Red. Last year’s matchups were much closer than these figures might suggest, however, as Harvard needed overtime at Lavietes to secure a 69-60 win before earning a 66-56 win over the Big Red in the teams’ meeting in Ithaca, N.Y.
Both Columbia and Cornell will need to contain Crimson co-captain Christine Clark if they are to succeed in pulling off an upset. The senior guard started the season on a tear, putting up six straight 20-point games before being slowed by an injury, which she has since overcome.
“Offensively, I think we have made improvements throughout the season,” Dinkins said. “In any game, we are looking to get the ball inside and also really looking for the mismatches. The goal is always to get our key players the shots they want and to get them feel-good shots within the offense.”
Clark is averaging a team-leading 16.3 points per game, and her play has served as a bellwether for the team’s performance. In each of the team’s losses this year, the Tucson, Ariz. native scored 12 points or less and shot under 50 percent from the field. This was the case last Saturday, when the Crimson eked out just a one-point win in New Haven. For the game, Clark notched only 10 points on 3-for-16 shooting.
While shutting down Clark may be the key to stopping the Crimson, that feat is easier said than done. The senior is now sixth all-time on the Harvard scoring list and has started the most consecutive career games in Ivy League history.
But Clark and the Harvard offense will have to work for shots against a stifling Cornell defense that comes in giving up just 62.8 points per game, good for second-best in the Ivy League.
“I think one of the things we are working on consistently is reading the defense and then executing our offenses,” Delaney-Smith said. “I think we have a lot of different ways to score and a lot of different players that can score. I believe we can become harder to play if we can read our defenses and execute our offenses a little better. That is what I feel we have to do against Columbia and against Cornell.”
—Staff writer M. Ty Aderhold can be reached at email@example.com.